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Winter break COVID testing and travel guidance for students

Categories: Academics, Campus, Health & safety, Travel


Given uncertainty surrounding the Omicron COVID variant, Stanford recommends that individuals contemplating travel during the winter quarter as part of university programs or group travel defer making firm financial commitments until further notice. Undergraduate students, however, continue to be guided by the travel policy below (See: “Undergraduate Students”)

Stanford affiliates who traveled over the holidays should familiarize themselves with the university’s winter quarter return policies.

As a result of the Omicron COVID variant, pre-travel and post-arrival testing and quarantine requirements are continually changing at the local, national and international level. For instance, as of December 6, 2021, all U.S.-bound international travelers must test within 24 hours of departure, regardless of vaccination status or nationality. Please note that reimbursement for any mandatory quarantines associated with university-sponsored travel is the responsibility of the sending unit or department.

Given current uncertainty around entry requirements, Stanford recommends that unvaccinated non-U.S. citizens DO NOT travel outside of the United States, as return may be problematic.

Regardless of vaccination status, all individuals are required to comply with campus access restrictions and testing requirements, utilizing PCR or Color/LAMP-based COVID tests, following personal or university-sponsored travel. In addition, visitors and guests coming to campus must also complete a daily Health Attestation form.

For those planning their return to campus following the winter break, Stanford has posted protocols here. Our winter quarter return protocols include:

  • Continued masking
  • Two Color tests the first week back on campus from the winter break
  • An additional rapid test upon arrival for students who return to on-campus housing the weekend of Jan. 1-2
  • Limitations on student parties and certain other gatherings for the start of the winter quarter
  • Additional requirements for those who are unvaccinated, including a period of restricted activity for unvaccinated individuals arriving from domestic or international travel

Vaccinated individuals returning from international travel may not come to shared spaces, including class, until they receive a negative COVID test result taken on Day 0 (immediately upon return). They must also take a test on Day 5.

Unvaccinated students and employees who have traveled internationally may not return to campus, except housing, until a Day 5 negative test.

Travel to Hawaii, Alaska, and U.S. territories and possessions is considered domestic travel.

As with all policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, this guidance is subject to changing health conditions.

Winter break COVID testing

COVID testing is strongly recommended weekly for all students who are living on campus or coming to campus on a regular basis, following this protocol.

Student-athletes, Hopkins Marine Station students, and some medical students will use different protocols and should follow the instructions of their respective administrative or clinical advisors.

Students who travel outside of Northern California as defined on Health Alerts are required to be tested twice upon return, within a day or two of arrival and approximately 5 days later. While awaiting both test results, students should restrict themselves to essential activities.

Winter break travel guidance

The uncertainties of the pandemic could disrupt travel plans. Consider purchasing plane tickets that are changeable. Keep in mind your return could be delayed.

Get a COVID test several days before departure to guard against taking the virus with you. If you test positive and are unable to travel, the university will provide isolation dining and housing at no additional cost, as long as the student is in isolation.

Graduate students who share an apartment should discuss travel plans with each other. If you or your apartment mate feel uncomfortable sharing your living space after either of you have traveled, the Graduate Life Office can work with you to see if temporary alternate housing is available while you are tested. Please be aware that such spaces cannot be guaranteed, though the university will do its best to provide temporary housing for students who need to travel due to family obligations or an emergency situation. 

Winter break travel guidance for international students

The Bechtel International Center will be closed beginning December 14, 2020, and will re-open for online services on January 4, 2021. An emergency email will be activated for the winter break period. 

We would like to remind all international students of the following:

International travel is not recommended. During the winter break 2020, international travel is not recommended for those under Stanford visa sponsorship. This recommendation is based on:

  1. Uncertainty of border closures/travel restrictions during the COVID-19 emergency. 
  2. Uncertainty as to the availability of consular services abroad as many embassies may be closed or offer only limited services for those seeking visa renewals. Even scheduled appointments may be cancelled with little notice.
  3. Uncertainty around the ability to re-enter the United States for those students who want to remain eligible for employment benefits such as Curricular Practical Training and Optional Practical Training.

If international travel is unavoidable. If you do decide to travel internationally, please remember the following:

  1. Check the travel signature on your latest I-20/DS-2019. If the signature will be no more than one year old at the time of re-entry to the United States, it is still valid (only 6 months for those on OPT/STEM OPT). If the travel signature has – or will – expire before your planned re-entry date, please complete this form to request a new I-20/DS-2019. Processing a request for a reprint may be delayed if the request is received after November 20.
  2. Stanford has very limited capacity to assist in the event of a visa appointment delay or issues around re-entry. If you do make the decision to travel internationally, against Bechtel’s recommendation not to travel, please accept responsibility for potential outcomes as Stanford may not be able to assist.
  3. J-1 students traveling from the Schengen Zone/the United Kingdom/Ireland may need to re-apply for an National Interest Exemption before re-entering the United States.

For more information, please visit: 

Bechtel’s Travel FAQ

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel webpage